It’s officially rivalry week, which means Sounders coach Sigi Schmid Wednesday was asked if animosity exists between Seattle and Portland as the clubs prepare for their second MLS regular season meeting Sunday night at CenturyLink Field.
“We’re not discouraging it, but we’re not going to stand here and call them names and throw empty beer cans at their bus,” Schmid said. “Other people will do that.”
Though Portland joined the MLS in 2009, the rivalry dates back to 1975, when the clubs played in the defunct North American Soccer League that folded after the 1984 season. Schmid fondest recall of the rivalry was much more recent.
“The best memory was beating them 3-0,” he said, referencing a home win last October played before 66,542 — the seventh-largest regular-season attendance in MLS history. “That was a great day. Great crowd. Packed house. Just winning the game solidly was a very good memory.”
He also remembered Roger Levesque scoring 48 seconds into a 2009 U.S. Open Cup match at PGE Park in Portland, and the ensuing celebration, when teammate Nate Jaqua chopped Levesque down like a tree.
“That’s always a fun thing to look back to,” Schmid said.
Four years later, Seattle just wants to make up enough ground to re-enter the playoff picture. The Sounders are in the race, but if the season ended Thursday would be on the outside looking in. In the first meeting of the season March 16 at the Clink, the clubs drew 1-1. The final game is Oct. 13 in Portland.
More than 67,000 fans are expected for the Cascadia Cup match that will mark midfielder Clint Dempsey’s home debut. The match is sold out, and televised on ESPN 2, but newly offered standing-room only tickets could make for the biggest crowd for an MLS game in Northwest soccer history.
Club officials installed an additional 400 upper-level bleacher seats to meet increased ticket demands. When drawing more than 40,000, the Sounders are 7-0-2 and have outscored opponents 23-8.
“I can’t even imagine what it’s going to be like when the whole stadium is completely packed, and they’re behind us,” Dempsey said.
He’s already been impressed by soccer fans in the Northwest, some of whom traveled to Houston Saturday to see Seattle lose 3-1 against the Dynamo.
“They stay behind you the whole time,” Demspey said. “Even in Houston, when we were losing, the fans were behind us the whole way. That’s something that is priceless.”
The Sounders (10-8-4, 34 points) are sixth in the Western Conference, though they have played two fewer matches than Vancouver and Los Angeles, each of which are ahead of them in the standings. Not lost on players is the importance of making up ground on the Timbers (9-3-12, 39 points), who are experiencing their best season in their brief MLS history.
Wednesday night, the Timbers fell into a 3-3 draw with Real Salt Lake in Portland when they allowed a stoppage-time goal to an RSL team playing a man down for the last 20 minutes. RSL (12-8-6) held the West lead, and Portland tied Colorado for second.
“There’s never been this kind of battle between positional rankings,” said Sounders’ midfielder Brad Evans of the additional layer to the rivalry. “The standings haven’t been as close as they are right now. It puts a little bit of extra emphasis on this game.”
So fuel has been added to the most heated rivalry in MLS.
“Things become a little bit more intense, a little bit more heightened,” Evans said. “It’s not hatred, but this is one that you mark on the calendar that you want to win. It’s more important than the Galaxy and the Salt Lake rivalries.”
The Sounders will try to avoid snapping a franchise record nine-game home unbeaten streak (6-0-3) that dates back to March 2, when they suffered a 1-0 loss against the Montreal Impact. They enter averaging two goals per game at home, second best mark in the MLS.
But Dempsey, the U.S. Men’s National Team captain, has yet to score in his first two road games, though he narrowly missed a few chances in last Saturday’s 3-1 loss to the Dynamo.
“I should have scored last game,” he said. “I’m happy that I’m getting good looks. It’s just a matter of time.”
Notes: The Sounders signed former New England Revolution midfielder Blair Gavin, 24, a three-year MLS veteran whom Chivas USA selected No. 10 in the 2010 MLS SuperDraft. He appeared in nine games for Chivas before a trade to New England, starting five matches (no goals, one assist) . . . Forward Obafemi Martins trained sparingly Wednesday at the team’s practice facility in Tukwila. Schmid said he is unsure if he will play Sunday. Martins didn’t appear Saturday against Houston. He’s been out since suffering an ankle sprain Aug. 10 against Toronto.